Brooklyn, NY - Firefighter Reunited With Chabad Rabbi He Rescued As Teen In 2002 Blaze
Brooklyn, NY - 14 years after a devastating fire ripped through a Crown Heights home, a Chasidic man and the firefighter who saved his life had the opportunity to meet face to face and express their mutual gratitude to each other.
Former Lieutenant Joseph Scaramuzzino of the FDNY was with Ladder Company 113 located at Rogers Avenue in Crown Heights when the call came in at approximately 4:18 AM on February 8th, 2002.
“We arrived at 4:21 and the fire was on the first floor,” Lieutenant Scaramuzzino told VIN News. “I noticed two things right away. It was a frame building, with bars on the upstairs windows. The frame building means the fire moves quickly. Bars on the windows means no one can get out.”
A man standing outside the flaming building at 484 Crown Street identified himself as the grandfather of teens who were sleeping upstairs and were trapped by the flames.
Rabbi Zalman Friedman, who was 17 years old on that night, said that he remembers the fire as if it were yesterday, waking up to hear his grandfather knocking on doors waking people up in the basement. He and his brothers Mendel and Shmulik, ages 16 and 15, had been sleeping upstairs.
“I started walking towards the stairs and I started going down but I saw a wall of fire, a full wall of fire,” said Rabbi Friedman. “The walls were so hot that I got blisters on my hands from touching them. I couldn’t go down so I started going back up.”
Lieutenant Scaramuzzino entered the building with Lieutenant Ralph Tufano and called upstairs to the teens. Rabbi Friedman recalled opening his mouth to respond but being unable to utter even a single syllable.
“I opened my mouth to scream but I got a mouth full of smoke,” said Rabbi Friedman. “No sound came out.”
The firefighters used a fire extinguisher to temporarily quell the wall of flames that had completely taken over the staircase. Lieutenant Scaramuzzino remembered searching for the trapped teens, finally coming across the 17 year old Zalman Friedman.
“He was barely moaning,” recalled Lieutenant Scaramuzzino. “Every time he opened his mouth it would fill with smoke. I dragged him back to the stairs but the fire was fully engulfed and we were trapped upstairs. I put his body against the wall and dove down the stairs with him. I wasn’t letting go of him for anything. When I hit the floor they tried to grab him from me but I wouldn’t let go of him.”
All three teens were rescued from the blaze, which is believed to have started in the kitchen and to have been electrical in nature.
Just weeks ago, one of Rabbi Friedman’s neighbors happened to be speaking with Lieutenant Scaramuzzino when Crown Street surfaced in the conversation. In no time at all the two men connected the dots and Rabbi Friedman called Lieutenant Scaramuzzino, hoping to be able to express his gratitude to the man who saved his life.
“He said to me, ‘You are an angel,’” said Lieutenant Scarmuzzino. “I told him I wasn’t an angel. I was just there at the right time.”
Lieutenant Scarmuzzino thanked the 31 year old father of four, telling him that his own life had changed forever on that fateful night, which took place just a few months after 9/11.
“I lost two nephews and a cousin on 9/11 and I would ask G-d, ‘Why did you leave me here?’” said Lieutenant Scaramuzzino. “On February 8th at 4:22 in the morning, I found my purpose. He was my purpose.”
“He kept on making it sound like I saved his life,” observed Rabbi Friedman. “I kept on thanking him and he said, ‘Don’t thank me.’”
Rabbi Friedman invited Lieutenant Scaramuzzino and Lieutenant Tufano to join the annual seudas hodaa held each year on the 27th day of Shevat by the Friedman family to commemorate their miraculous rescue at Chabad of Mill Basin, where Rabbi Friedman’s father, Rabbi Yehuda Friedman, serves as the rabbi. Lieutenant Scaramuzzino arrived to last Thursday night’s celebration, gifts in hand.
“I bought two yarmulkas, one for me and one for him,” said Lieutenant Scaramuzzino. “Both have scenes of Jerusalem on them.”
The former firefighter also presented Rabbi Friedman with a piece of framed artwork bearing Hebrew and English text expressing how meaningful it can be to for those who have connected previously to finally find each other.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” said Lieutenant Scaramuzzino, who plans to reciprocate with an invitation of his own. “I wasn’t expecting that. “I held his five week old baby. It was incredible.”
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